Derek Halpern (@derekhalpern on Twitter) started blogging and creating websites in college so he could make a living without having to work a “real job” while earning his psychology degree. The experience proved even more valuable: By writing and designing websites, he learned what people wanted to buy and read online, and he turned his knowledge into a web-based business.
Halpern recently started a blog called Social Triggers, where he writes about the intersection of psychology and marketing and teaches businesspeople how to understand human behavior so they can turn web traffic into leads and sales. We asked him for some marketing advice, such as what type of website design works best, which internet options are time-wasters, and why email is still his top marketing tool.
ISBB: What is the most important aspect of human psychology that businesses trying to sell products via the internet should know?
Halpern: Less is more. I always cite psychologist Sheena Iyengar and her famous “jam experiment.” She set up two taste-testing displays of jam in a supermarket: one display had 24 jams; the other had six. The larger jam display got more foot traffic, but people visiting the smaller display were 10 times more likely to buy jam. Businesses tend to overload their websites. Their vast array of options may attract more people, but browsers may not take action because they’re overwhelmed. So, it’s smart to embrace “less is more” online.
If you have 1,000 products in your inventory, you’re probably wondering how to show them all. I recommend “chunking,” or placing your products into smaller categories. For example, Zappos has millions of clothing items, but they’re not all shown on the homepage. Instead, Zappos lists “men’s,” “women’s,” and “kids’” as three chunks on the left side, then breaks those sections down into smaller chunks. I recommend listing four to seven options in each category. Fewer options lead to more sales.
What’s a good add-on tool for a business website?
I like video, particularly of the people who run the company. It’s the closest thing to face-to-face interaction, and you can quickly build rapport with customers, connect with them on an individual basis. I also like good, old-fashioned photos. Did you know the “About Me” or “About Us” page is the most popular page on a blog or business website? If you put a photo there, people pay even more attention to it.
How useful is social media in attracting customers?
I use it, but I don’t really promote it on my website. I use it to connect to people and get them to my website, but once they’re there, I focus on getting their email addresses. My main marketing focus is building up my email list. Here’s why: A few months ago, I sent an email to 5,000 people that generated 2,000 hits to my website within 24 hours. I sent the same message via Facebook and to my 5,000-plus followers on Twitter, but that only got me 200 clicks. Emails generate results, and you can communicate directly with customers on your terms.
With the pressures of running a business, isn’t it overload to do all that marketing?
If you’re a small, local business, you don’t have to do it that often. You don’t need to update a blog every day. I suggest a few times each month. That way, you invest a good amount of time on each update, so that it’s extremely useful and informative to customers, and that’s plenty. I usually do two to four blog updates a month, and my site has still gained a lot of traction.
What internet tools can business owners just forget about?
If you’re a small business, you don’t need to spend $10,000 on web design. Most small local businesses can get away with simpler design or a WordPress blog. Another mistake is creating too much content — if you’re in the startup phase of your business, that can drive you mad. Also, don’t spend too much time on social media — if you spend too much time connecting instead of creating new products or great informative content, you lose out on the opportunity to focus on the things that generate big results. Figure out the 20 percent that gives you 80 percent of the results and focus on that. For me, it’s building an email list and creating good content.